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By Karine Kalantarian
Amendments to Armenia’s constitution proposed by President Robert Kocharian failed to win sufficient support in Sunday’s nationwide referendum, the Central Election Commission (CEC) announced late on Tuesday.

According to the preliminary results announced by the CEC, only approximately 46.3 percent of some 1.2 million Armenians who took part in the referendum and parliamentary elections voted for Kocharian’s constitutional package. To pass, the amendments needed the backing of the majority of referendum participants who would make up at least one third of 2.33 million eligible voters.

Under Armenian law, the final vote results must be made public on May 31 at the latest. The CEC has already missed the May 26 legal deadline for the publication of the preliminary referendum figures. The Kocharian-controlled body claimed that its territorial bodies were overwhelmed by the counting of ballots cast in the parliamentary elections.

The Armenian opposition, which rejected the draft amendments, accused the CEC of rigging the referendum with the aim of inflating the extent of popular support for Kocharian’s proposed constitutional reform. It claims that the amendments were overwhelmingly rejected by the voters.

Kocharian admitted prior to the vote that it will be “very difficult” for him to secure at least 778,000 votes needed for the passage of his proposed constitutional changes. He said he will not be seeking to impose them on the nation.

Kocharian has said all along that the amendments would curtail his sweeping constitutional powers and strengthen the legislature and the government. The president, for example, would be allowed to dissolve the parliament only in the event of its “inactivity,” and not at will as is the case now.

However, his opponents led by former presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian claim the opposite, arguing that the president will instead gain the authority to appoint more top government officials without the government’s consent. Demirchian’s Artarutyun bloc also claims that Kocharian, whose recent reelection it does not recognize, lacks the popular mandate to seek changes in the constitution adopted in 1995.
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